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How One Man's Idea Became Orange County Centennial

July 23, 1988|MARCIDA DODSON | Times Staff Writer

Frank Ducey had an idea.

It was 1982. Orange County was a respectable 93 years old, and Ducey, a local history buff, was aware that the 100-year mark was rapidly approaching.

What Orange County needed, he thought, was a big 100th birthday party. The centennial, he figured, should give today's residents pause to celebrate their past and look to the future.

Ducey mentioned his idea to the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, where he served on the board of directors, and the organization took a liking to it. He was told to get started on it and round up a planning committee representing the diverse interests in the county.

Six years and $1.5 million later, Orange County Centennial Inc. is days away from kicking off a yearlong celebration, coordinating more than 200 events designed to elicit participation by residents in all communities. And before the first event has begun, the nonprofit organization has posted a $300,000 surplus, to be spent on scholarships, said Darrell E. Metzger, president of the centennial organizing group.

But the accomplishment is more understandable, organizers say, when you consider that the nonprofit group is run like a profit-making business. Funds have been raised by appealing to the business community. On the board of directors are representatives of some of the county's most prominent firms and civic groups. The staff is headed by a businessman experienced in staging special events, who does not hesitate to call on the notables on the board for advice or problem-solving.

"We're trying to run as cleanly and efficiently as possible," said Bob Clifford, chairman of OCCI's board of directors, "and to leave a legacy as large as we can in the form of scholarships."

One of the goals of the centennial organizers, from the start, has been to get every city in the county involved, but to do it at no expense to taxpayers.

Cautious after past civic celebrations' financial losses--a $100-million-plus disaster at New Orleans' World's Fair and an estimated $900,000 debt from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge 50th anniversary--the organizers took a lesson from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, an event that turned a profit of more than $200 million and distributed it to youth sports programs.

Two developers, the Santa Margarita Co. and the Irvine Co., were approached for "seed money" and put up $35,000 each, so that organizers could start developing a program to sell to potential sponsors.

Two levels of corporate sponsorship were set up to finance the centennial. Eight companies paid $100,000 to become "founders." They are the Santa Margarita Co., the Irvine Co., the Orange County Register, the Times Orange County Edition, American Airlines, Disneyland, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, and Knott's Berry Farm. Coincidentally or not, the founders include rival businesses, which, according to Metzger, shows that the centennial is "not a commercialized, exclusive business venture."

For $15,000, 50 more companies signed up as "sponsors." That price tag, Metzger said, allowed small and medium-size firms an opportunity to join in. "It gives the businesses an opportunity to give something back to the community," he said. On the more commercial side, the official founders and sponsors are entitled to use the "OC100" logo in promotions, and their names will be displayed at centennial events.

In addition, the special events--such as the July 31 kickoff bicycle tour and fireworks show--are separately financed by sponsors, so the events cannot jeopardize OCCI's operations or scholarship fund.

Still, organizers are quick to point out that the centennial is not a celebration for businesses.

Many official centennial activities are traditional municipal fairs and festivals. For example, the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, Santa Ana's Christmas parade, Tustin Tiller Days and Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters are among the official centennial celebrations. But interspersed through the year are the bigger and glitzier special events--such as the nationally televised major league All-Star game next July from Anaheim Stadium and the closing event, the Kaleidoscope Festival, which will showcase the county's multicultural heritage through art, music, dance, food and exhibits.

"We wanted to be involved and provide a theme for events that are Orange County traditions," said Clifford. "And we wanted to provide a catalyst for recognizing the history that weaves itself into those things. We wanted to involve as many people as possible, and then leave something behind, in the form of scholarships, for the future."

By setting themselves up as a private corporation, instead of operating as a government-appointed committee of volunteers, the centennial organizers are able to move quickly, something that is a must when staging once-only special events, Metzger said.

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